Emerson Pareira on a career in cocktails

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Emerson Pareira making an apple sour at the Made With Love qualifiers. Photo by Bruno Guérin

Brazilian mixologist Emerson Pareira is a bartender at the Big in Japan bar and the winner of the qualifying round of Canadian cocktail competition Made With Love.

Before coming to Montreal with his Québécois wife last February, Pareira was an office manager in Sao Paulo who turned to bar work when the couple moved to Australia for three years, simply because it was easiest job to get after arriving in a new country. He truly started from the bottom — cleaning toilets — before graduating to waiter and finally to bartender.

Though he has certifications in scotch and classic cocktails (and a prize from a Brazilian cocktail competition), Pareira is otherwise self-taught and is a proponent of this route to cocktail mastery.

With Made With Love’s regional finals coming up at SAT on Dec. 11, we asked Pareira how he’d advise aspiring mixologists.

“First, don’t see being a bartender as a job; see it as a profession,” he says. “There’s one really good school in Montreal, but I think the best thing you can do is read as much as you can. I have a shelf full of books, I have websites and YouTube channels that I follow.

“My personal favourite way to learn is going to bars, talking to people, trying all the cocktails,” Pareira adds. “So go out, but also look outside of Montreal, look up cocktail menus from the best restaurants in the world. It’s important to know the old gang, people who’ve been working in this for a long time — try to find them online, they’re really good at teaching you basic stuff. Don’t ever stop studying.”

When Pareira first came to Montreal, he frequented Cold Room, Big in Japan, le Lab and other well known cocktail establishments, which helped him tremendously when he interviewed at Snowbird Tiki Bar and, later, Big in Japan — he got both jobs following honest conversations about cocktails and the local cocktail scene.

“The scene is growing but it’s still a really small community and they kind of know if you know,” he explains. “They know everyone, and everyone kind of has the same knowledge, with some differences. If you’re honest, they can tell if you’re really interested in this work or if you’re just here for a job and not a career.”

As for winning the Made With Love qualifiers, Pareira says it came down to speed, “creativity on the spot” and the quest for a bitter but refreshing concoction.

“Competitors went up against each other two by two,” he explains. “We had to use the same spirit and a secret ingredient and other ingredients (on hand) within five minutes.

“I made an apple sour. For me a cocktail is just structure, right? So you need a base, you need a modifier, you need a citrus, you need a sweet and you need a fruity bitter. Vodka was the spirit, Campari was the modifier, but for the citrus I did something different: I took apple, vermouth blanc, lime and sugar and I shook it and used it as a citrus — like two cocktails in one. Then I added chocolate bitters to balance it out and topped it with some tonic. It was really good.” ■

Made With Love‘s regional finals are happening at SAT (1201 St-Laurent), Monday, Dec. 11, 6 p.m., $71.75

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